Tag: SSPE

What Happens When You Research the Disease?

We know how anti-vaccine folks think.

Anti-vaccine math…

And now we know how they do their research

How Anti-Vaccine Folks Research Disease

If you’re like me, you are probably wondering why they picked 2016 as the year to research.

Why look just at 2016?

And, there you see it.

In the past 6 years, 2016 was the year with the fewest cases of measles. Why not choose 2017 or 2018 to do their research?

But let’s look at 2016, even though the information isn’t complete:

  • 86 cases
  • cases in 19 states, including Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah
  • a large outbreak in Arizona (31 cases) linked to a private detention center and all that is known is that 7 of 9 staff members who got measles had received at least one dose of MMR, and 3 had received their dose very recently
  • a large outbreak in Shelby County, Tennessee, at least 7 cases, including 6 unvaccinated and one partially vaccinated child
  • a large measles outbreak (17 cases) in Los Angeles County and Santa Barbara County that was linked to the Los Angeles Orthodox Jewish community
  • two cases in Colorado, including an unvaccinated toddler and an unvaccinated adult – outbreaks which cost at least $68,192 to control

And of th cases in 2016, it seems that just 16% were vaccinated.

What about the claim that 26% were vaccinated?

That wasn’t 26% of the total number of cases, but rather 26% of the cases among US residents.

So if you do the math, that’s just 14 cases that were vaccinated, and out of 86 cases, that’s really just 16%. And a lot of those cases are skewed by the one outbreak at the detention center, in which they may have only received one dose of MMR and nearly half may have gotten vaccinated after the caught had already started!

What about the claim that “the odds of dying from the measles are like 0.00000013%” using numbers “before the vaccine was introduced in 1963?”

“Before a vaccine became available in 1963, measles was a rite of passage among American children. A red rash would spread over their bodies. They would develop a high fever. Severe cases could cause blindness or brain damage, or even death.”

CDC says measles almost eliminated in U.S.

In the pre-vaccine era, your odds of getting measles were very high. Remember, everyone eventually got measles.

And looking at statistics of reported measles cases and reported measles deaths, we know that death occurred in about 1 to 3 in every 1,000 reported cases.

So everyone got measles, but not everyone survived having measles.

Even if you use a more liberal count of 1 death in 10,000 cases, when all kids get measles, that’s a lot of deaths. Remember, about 450 people used to die with measles each year.

What about your odds of dying with measles now?

If you are fully vaccinated, then they are extremely low.

They are pretty low if you are unvaccinated too, in most cases, because you are benefiting from herd immunity and the fact that most folks around you are vaccinated, reducing your risk of being exposed to measles. Still, the risk is much higher than most anti-vaccine folks expect, because they often make the mistake of using the entire population of the United States in their calculations. They should instead just use the folks who are unvaccinated and susceptible, a much smaller number.

Want to increase your risk?

  • travel out of the country
  • hang out in a cluster with other unvaccinated people
  • stay unvaccinated

The odds aren’t in your favor to avoid measles if you are unvaccinated. Eventually, your luck might run out.

Starting to see the mistakes anti-vaccine folks make when they say they have done their research?

“How do they know how many people would have gotten measles and how many of them would have died?!?”

It’s not rocket science.

It’s epidemiology.

“We constructed a state-space model with population and immunisation coverage estimates and reported surveillance data to estimate annual national measles cases, distributed across age classes. We estimated deaths by applying age-specific and country-specific case-fatality ratios to estimated cases in each age-country class.”

Simons et al on Assessment of the 2010 global measles mortality reduction goal: results from a model of surveillance data.

Unfortunately, after years of improvements, measles deaths increased in 2017. And they will continue to increase, as our risk of getting measles continues to increase if folks don’t get vaccinated and protected.

Lastly, why does it “sound like millions of people would have died without the measles vaccine?”

Maybe because millions of people died in previous years, before they were vaccinated and protected.

Indeed, do your research, but you will find that vaccine-preventable diseases aren’t as mild as anti-vaccine folks believe. That’s why it is important to get vaccinated and protected.

More on Researching Vaccine-Preventable Disease

How Many People Get Measles Each Year?

It used to be that measles was very common and almost everyone got measles.

A measles epidemic hit New York City in 1951, as this front page NYTimes article reports.
A measles epidemic hit New York City in 1951, as this front page NYTimes article reports.

While it was a so-called rite of passage and a part of growing up, it wasn’t something you looked forward to, as some kids didn’t survive having measles.

How Many People Get Measles Each Year?

Fortunately, measles case counts have dropped in the post-vaccine era.

How much did they drop?

Let’s see..

YearCases
1920469,924
1941894,134
over 400 measles deaths each year
1962503,282
196925,826
197047,351
197826,871
197913,597
19831,497
19866,282
198918,193
199027,786
19919,643
19922,200
1993312
last record high number of measles cases
1994963
1995281
1996508
1997138
1998100
1999100
200086
2001116
200244
200355
record low number of measles cases
200437
200566
200655
200743
2008140
200971
201061
2011220
201255
2013187
worst year for measles since 1994, with the largest single outbreak (377 cases in Ohio) since the endemic spread of measles was eliminated
2014667
2015188
201686
2017120
2018355+

Can you guess when the first measles vaccines were introduced?

Can you guess when we started to give kids a second dose of the MMR vaccine?

Can you guess when Wakefield became popular and Dr. Bob’s vaccine book was released?

Do you know how much it costs to contain these outbreaks?

Do you understand the consequences of a natural measles infection?

Can you explain why we will almost certainly have the second highest number of measles cases in one year since 1994, even though we see the devastation that high rates of measles is causing in Europe and other parts of the world?

How many people will get measles in the United States this year?

A lot has changed since we got reassurance from the CDC that we were seeing an expected range of measles cases, although there were plenty of warning signs then that this was going to be one for the record books.
A lot has changed since we got reassurance from the CDC that we were seeing an expected range of measles cases, although there were plenty of warning signs then that this was going to be one for the record books.

Although no one is reporting on this, with several large ongoing outbreaks still not under control – it will be another record year for measles in the United States.

The Rockland County measles outbreak already exceeds the total yearly case count for 11 of the past 19 years!
The Rockland County measles outbreak already exceeds the total yearly case count for 11 of the past 19 years!

And with several large outbreaks continuing overseas, next year doesn’t look like it will be much better, especially with reports of a measles resurgence in many regions of the world.

More on Measles and Measles Cases

Updated on January 6, 2019

Who Dies with Measles?

Measles is another of those diseases that some claim used to be mild and a rite of passage for kids.

That’s why there was an episode of the Brady Bunch about it, right?

An episode in which all of the kids got sick and they had to call two pediatricians to do house calls…

Who Dies with Measles?

While measles was a rite of passage for kids, it wasn’t the kind you looked forward to, because measles is rarely mild.

“Before a vaccine became available in 1963, measles was a rite of passage among American children. A red rash would spread over their bodies. They would develop a high fever. Severe cases could cause blindness or brain damage, or even death.”

CDC says measles almost eliminated in U.S.

Instead, most people develop 10 days of measles symptoms, including a high fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes, and a rash. Photophobia, irritability, sore throat, headache, and abdominal pain are other symptoms that children with measles might have.

Many require hospitalization and some die.

But isn’t it just older people or those with immune system problems that die with measles?

“From 1964 through 1971, 16.7% of the death certificates reviewed noted some underlying pathologic condition.”

Roger Barkin, MD on Measles mortality. Analysis of the primary cause of death.

Nope.

It is most often children, typically young children, without any medical problems who die.

Before the routine use of vaccines, most measles deaths were young children without any medical problems.
Before the routine use of measles vaccines, most measles deaths were young children without any previous medical problems.

In the post-vaccination era, no one would be expected to die with measles, but those with immune system problems sometimes do, as most others are vaccinated and protected. As vaccinated rates drop though, even otherwise healthy children and adults can once again die of measles.

Remember the measles outbreaks at the end of the 1980s?

“Complications were reported in 672 (9.8%) cases, including otitis media in 318 (4.6%) cases, pneumonia in 178 (2.6%), diarrhea in 171 (2.5%), and encephalitis in five (0.1%). Nine hundred thirteen patients (13.3%) were hospitalized, and 10 measles-associated fatalities were reported (case-fatality rate: 1.5 deaths per 1000 reported cases). Eight of the deaths were reported in children less than 5 years of age, all of whom were unvaccinated. None had a reported underlying illness or immunodeficiency. Most deaths have been attributed to pneumonia.”

Measles — United States, First 26 Weeks, 1989

Probably not, but from 1989 to 1991 there were at least 123 measles deaths across the United States, even after measles had been declining for years with the introduction of the measles vaccine in the 1960s. Most of the deaths were otherwise healthy, without underlying medical problems.

They were unvaccinated and unprotected.

Because we don’t typically hear any details about measles deaths, including the almost 90,000 measles deaths that continue to occur around the world each year, most people likely assume that measles only kills in third world countries, where kids are already sick or malnourished. Of course, that wouldn’t explain how over one hundred people died with measles in Europe over the past few years…

Still think that measles isn’t deadly?

Tragically, there are plenty of stories (although most are never reported in the news and we don’t hear about them) and case reports that will prove you wrong:

  • Olivia Dahl died with measles when she was 7-years-old (1962)
  • an unvaccinated 3-year-old died in Maricopa County (1970)
  • a 13-year-old girl who had previously been vaccinated with one of the first inactivated measles vaccines which were found to be ineffective and were replaced with the newer live vaccines died in Michigan (1978)
  • a 9-month-old died in Chicago (1990)
  • an unvaccinated 13-year-old died in Kansas (1990)
  • Tammy Bowman, an 11-year-old unvaccinated girl died in Michigan (1990)
  • an unvaccinated 13-year-old became the first person in the UK to die with measles in 14 years (2006)
  • a 14-year-old died of Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE), a late complication of a natural measles infection (2015)
  • an immunocompromised woman died after she was exposed in an outbreak in Clallam County, Washington (2015)
  • a 6-year-old boy with leukemia died in Italy caught measles from his intentionally unvaccinated sibling (2017)
  • an 11-month-old unvaccinated infant died in Greece (2017)
  • an intentionally unvaccinated 9-year-old girl with chromosomopathy, which is not a contraindication to getting vaccinated, died in Italy (2017)
  • a 10-month-old unvaccinated boy who likely caught measles when he had been hospitalized for an RSV infection, died in Italy (2018)
  • a 16-year-old who had received a heart transplant when she was 2-years-old died in France (2018)
  • an unvaccinated toddler in Jerusalem (2018)

Measles as a rite of passage?

“We baby boomers were apparently the last generation whose doctors, and therefore parents, accepted the measles as just one more annoying rite of passage of childhood that also happened to prime the immune system and provide lifelong immunity. Medical texts prior to the advent of the vaccine described measles as a benign, selflimiting (sic) childhood infectious disease that posed little risk to the average well-nourished child.”

Darrerl Crain, DC on The Great Measles Misunderstanding

While early pediatric textbooks did a great job describing the symptoms of measles, they also did a great job of documenting that measles was never a benign disease, something anti-vaccine folks still misunderstand because vaccines can do such a good job controlling the disease.

Even as overall mortality improved in the mid-20th Century, measles still wasn't a benign disease.
Even as overall mortality improved in the mid-20th Century, measles still wasn’t a benign disease.

Do benign, self-limiting childhood infections diseases kill hundreds of children every year?

This toddler died of measles in 1955.
This toddler died of measles in 1955.

Measles as a rite of passage is something we don’t want to have to go back to. It was a rite of passage that was endured because there was no other choice.

We have a choice now.

Don’t be misled into making the wrong one.

Don’t help anti-vaccine folks bring back measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Vaccines are safe, effective and necessary.

“Today, vaccination is a cornerstone of pediatric preventive health care and a rite of passage for nearly all of the approximately 11,000 infants born daily in the United States.”

Cohn et al on Immunizations in the United States: A Rite of Passage

Getting vaccinated and protected is a rite of passage that you can look forward to, thanks to the many benefits of vaccines, not one that you should dread or avoid.

More on Measles Deaths

Does Having Measles Protect You from Cancer?

Anti-vaccine folks often try to tout the benefits of natural immunity.

So that's why Big Pharma wants you to get measles! So you will get cancer.
So that’s why Big Pharma wants you to get measles! So you will get cancer.

That measles reduces your risk of cancer is probably one that you haven’t heard.

Neither are you likely to have heard of the conspiracy theory that Big Pharma wants you to get vaccinated and protected so that you don’t get measles, just so you are at increased risk of cancer later.

Does Having Measles Protect You from Cancer?

The idea of a viral infection protecting you from cancer doesn’t make much sense, after all, many viral infections actually cause cancer.

That’s why we have vaccines to protect us against hepatitis B and HPV infections! So much for the idea that Big Pharma wants you to get cancer. If they did, then why did they develop vaccines that prevent cancer?

But Brandy Vaughn has evidence for her claim, doesn’t she?

Kind of. She has a study, “Febrile infectious childhood diseases in the history of cancer patients and matched control,” that was published 20 years ago in the journal Medical Hypothesis. A study that consisted of a questionnaire that was sent to cancer patients who were seen by anthroposophic general practitioners in Switzerland.

Anthroposophic general practitioners? Think Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf Schools.

Understand the connection with vaccines now?

That’s right, a “study” done by alternative health providers who are against vaccines found a benefit to getting febrile infectious childhood diseases, many of which are vaccine preventable.

What Are the Benefits and Risks of Measles?

Not surprisingly, few other people talk about any benefits to having a natural measles infection.

Unfortunately, we also don’t hear enough about the complications of these infections either, mostly because they are rather uncommon these days since most folks are vaccinated and protected.

Not uncommon enough though, as we still do have outbreaks.

Measles Benefits Measles Risks
natural immunity death
can miss 7-10 days of school or work encephalitis
SSPE
seizures
pneumonia
7 to 10 days of high fever and irritability
can trigger an outbreak
a few years of immune amnesia

Immune amnesia?

That’s a risk that you might be unfamiliar with, but it is the increasing popular theory that a natural measles infection resets your immune system to that of a newborn, so that you are once again susceptible to many infectious diseases. That’s likely why mortality rates from other diseases besides measles goes down when folks start to get vaccinated against measles.

Measles and Cancer Risks

What about the association of measles and cancer?

Unlike the idea that a natural measles infection might be protective against cancer, there are more than a few studies that actually associate measles with a risk of developing cancer, including:

  • lung cancer
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • endometrial cancer
  • breast cancer

Are these associations real?

Probably not, after all, why don’t rates of these cancers go way down after measles gets under control or eliminated?

Still, most of us know that measles isn’t a mild disease and don’t need any extra benefits to getting vaccinated and protected.

We know what life was like when measles was a common childhood disease and see what is happening in parts of the world where measles is still much more common than it is in the United States.

And we understand the most dangerous association between measles and cancer that affects the most people – when unvaccinated people get measles and expose children and adults on chemotherapy who are immunosuppressed and can’t be vaccinated.

More on Measles and Cancer

Complications of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

We know that vaccine-preventable diseases can be life-threatening.

In the pre-vaccine era, when these diseases were much more common, way too many people died, but still, most people did recover.

They didn’t always survive without complications though.

Tragically, we are starting to see more of these complications as more kids are now getting some of these vaccine-preventable diseases again.

Complications of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

That we can prevent these serious complications is another benefit of getting vaccinated!

How serious?

Have you ever seen someone who has survived a meningococcal infection?

Do they always have all of their arms and legs?

How about their fingers and toes?

"Baby" Charlotte survived her battle with meningococcemia and continues to take on new challenges!
“Baby” Charlotte survived her battle with meningococcemia and continues to take on new challenges!

There is a reason that we say that you have to earn your natural immunity. You have to survive these diseases to get it. And you want to survive without any long-term complications, which can include:

  1. chicken pox – shingles, secondary bacterial infections, pneumonia, meningitis, encephalitis, seizures, transverse myelitis, Reye syndrome, neonatal varicella, congenital varicella syndrome
  2. congenital rubella syndrome – neonatal death, heart problems, deafness, cataracts, intellectual disability, liver and spleen damage, glaucoma, thyroid problems
  3. diphtheria – myocarditis, heart failure, nerve damage, muscle paralysis
  4. Haemophilus influenzae type b – meningitis, epiglottitis, pneumonia, osteomyelitis, cellulitis, hearing loss, brain damage, loss of limbs
  5. hepatitis A – can rarely lead to liver failure
  6. hepatitis B – chronic hepatitis B, cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer
  7. HPV – genital warts, cancer
  8. influenza – parotitis, pneumonia, myocarditis, encephalitis, myositis, rhabdomyolysis, multi-organ failure
  9. measles –pneumonia, seizures, encephalitis, SSPE
  10. mumps – orchitis (inflammation of the testicles), oophoritis (inflammation of the ovaries), pancreatitis, meningitis, encephalitis
  11. pneumococcal disease – pneumonia, mastoiditis, meningitis, bacteremia, sepsis, empyema, pericarditis, hearing loss, brain damage
  12. pertussis – pneumonia, seizures, apnea, encephalopathy, rib fractures
  13. polio – meningitis, paralysis, post-polio syndrome
  14. rabies – it is very rare to survive a rabies infection without treatment
  15. rotavirus – dehydration, intussusception
  16. rubella – arthritis, congenital rubella syndrome
  17. shingles – postherpetic neuralgia, pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, encephalitis
  18. tetanus – seizures, laryngospasm, fractures, pulmonary embolism, aspiration pneumonia
  19. typhoid fever – intestinal perforation, internal bleeding, peritonitis, hepatitis, osteomyelitis, arthritis, meningitis, myocarditis,
  20. yellow fever – pneumonia, parotitis, sepsis

Anti-vaccine folks rarely talk about the complications of vaccine-preventable diseases. For that matter, they also often push the idea that vaccines don’t even work and that these diseases aren’t even vaccine preventable, don’t they?

Don’t believe them. Vaccines work and they are safe and necessary, especially if you want to avoid these diseases.

More on Complications of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Why Do We Only Worry About Measles?

Anti-vaccine folks often claim that health officials only worry about measles and measles outbreaks.

They can’t understand why anyone gets concerned by a few measles cases here and there, not understanding that a lot of work goes into containing measles outbreaks and making sure that they don’t grow beyond a few cases.

And health officials don’t just worry about measles. They work to control outbreaks of mumps, pertussis, hepatitis A, and all other diseases too.

Why We Worry About Measles Outbreaks

We do get concerned about measles outbreaks though.

“Whenever measles strikes, it’s more than just an outbreak of a single disease, or an indication that children aren’t receiving their measles shots; it’s also a warning that immunization coverage in general, for all vaccine-preventable diseases, is lower than it should be.

To put it another way: When rates of routine vaccination—children receiving all their shots on schedule, as a preventive measure rather than a reaction to an outbreak—start to fall, the first sign is usually a measles outbreak.”

Seth Berkley on Measles Outbreaks Are a Sign of Bigger Problems

The measles vaccine is among the most effective vaccines we have, so if we are seeing outbreaks, even though measles is very contagious, it means there is a problem.

“A focus on measles surveillance can help detect populations unreached by immunization systems and, by extension, program weaknesses. Measles serves as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for detecting problems with immunization programs, a characteristic whose importance has recently been highlighted in the context of global health security.”

Orenstein et al on Measles and Rubella Global Strategic Plan 2012–2020 midterm review

In the late 1980s, when we had large outbreaks between 1989 to 1991, with 55,622 cases and 123 deaths, it meant that we weren’t vaccinating enough kids because Federal support for vaccine programs had dropped.

As much as anti-vaccine folks like to try and minimize how serious measles can be, it is easy to see that measles is indeed a serious, life-threatening disease. We had good nutrition, proper sanitation, and modern health care in 1990, and still, a lot of people died with measles. Rates of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a late complication of measles, went up too, in the years after these outbreaks.

“Measles is a wholly preventable disease, and it was almost eradicated from the country in 1983, when only 1,497 cases were reported. But by 1990, after Federal budget cuts and the end of the Government’s monitoring of immunization programs, more than 30,000 cases of measles and more than 60 deaths were reported.”

Panel Ties Measles Epidemic to Breakdown in Health System

Those outbreaks were fixed, as we improved access to help kids get vaccinated and protected. Unfortunately, the issue with outbreaks today isn’t about access to vaccines, at least not in the developed world. It is about parents intentionally skipping or delaying vaccines.

How do you fix that?

Hopefully with education.

Why You Should Worry About Measles Outbreaks

Did you know that after the measles outbreaks of 1989, we also saw outbreaks of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome?

  • 396 cases of rubella, 4 deaths, and 2 cases of congenital rubella syndrome in 1989
  • 1,125 cases of rubella, 8 deaths, and 32 cases of congenital rubella syndrome in 1990
  • 1,401 cases of rubella, 1 death, and 34 cases of congenital rubella syndrome in 1991

Did you know that because they have overall lower vaccination rates, measles outbreaks in Europe grow far larger, into the tens of thousands of cases, with dozens of deaths?

“We must not tolerate a world in which a child dies from a disease that can be easily prevented with a low-cost vaccine.”

Dr Tedros, WHO Director-General on World Immunization Week 2018

We worry about measles outbreaks, because we don’t want to go back to anti-vaccine folks push us back to pre-vaccine era levels of disease and deaths.

We know what happens when vaccine levels drop too low.

A measles epidemic hit New York City in 1951, as this front page NYTimes article reports.
A measles epidemic hit New York City in 1951, as this NY Times article reports.

We know that vaccines are safe and necessary.

You should know that anti-vaccine propaganda that scares parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids is rooted in myths and misinformation. They often get away with it because most parents today ahve never seen how devastating measles and other diseases can really be, so they believe stories about the Brady Bunch, instead of the advice of real experts.

You hopefully understand that’s a mistake.

More on Worrying About Measles Outbreaks

When Was the Last Measles Death in the United States?

How many measles deaths have there been in the United States in the past ten years? Dr. Bob Sears frequently says that there have been none. It is easy to see that Dr. Bob is wrong, not even counting the latest death in 2015.

Measles Deaths in the United States

Measles deaths are thought to occur in about 1 in every 500 to 1,000 reported cases. This is not just in developing countries or in people with chronic medical conditions.

Consider that in an outbreak in the United States from 1989 to 1991, amid 55,622 cases, there were 123 deaths.

More recently, measles cases and measles deaths in the United States include:

  • 2000 – 86 cases – 1 measles death (infant)  – endemic spread of measles eliminated in U.S.
  • 2001 – 116 cases – 1 measles death
  • 2002 – 44 cases
  • 2003 – 55 cases – 1 measles death (1 year old)
  • 2004 – 37 cases – record low number of measles cases
  • 2005 – 66 cases – 1 measles death (1 year old)
  • 2006 – 55 cases
  • 2007 – 43 cases
  • 2008 – 140 cases
  • 2009 – 71 cases – 2 measles deaths
  • 2010 – 63 cases – 2 measles deaths
  • 2011 – 220 cases
  • 2012 – 55 cases – 2 measles deaths
  • 2013 – 187 cases (large outbreak in New York City – 58 cases)
  • 2014 – 667 cases (the worst year for measles since 1994, including the largest single outbreak since the endemic spread of measles was eliminated – 377 cases in Ohio)
  • 2015 – 188 cases – got off to a strong start with a big outbreak in California – 1 measles death
  • 2016 – 86 cases
  • 2017 – 118 cases

So that’s 11 measles deaths since 2000 and at least 8 measles deaths since 2005.

The last death, a woman in Clallam County in Washington, was exposed in an outbreak of mostly unvaccinated people in 2015.

Why do people say that there have been no measles deaths in the United States in the past 10 years? Whether they are misinformed or intentionally trying to misinform people, they are wrong.

The Last Verifiable Measles Death in the United States

The CDC is actually contributing a bit to the confusion over measles deaths, in that when asked, they have historically said that “the last verifiable death in the United States from acute measles infection occurred in 2003 when there were 2 reported deaths.”

They explain the discrepancy between that statement and other CDC reports, like the recently published “Summary of Notifiable Diseases — United States, 2012,” which clearly documents measles deaths in 2005, 2009, and 2010, by saying that those reports are based on “statistical information about deaths in the United States.”

But that statistical information comes from death certificates that are sent in from all over the United States to the National Vital Statistics System. The system isn’t like VAERS, where just anyone can send in a report. You don’t necessarily have to be a doctor to sign and file a death certificate though either, which is why the CDC is probably hung up on saying that the last verifiable measles deaths were in 2003.

To be more precise when talking about measles deaths in the United States, since it doesn’t seem like the CDC has verified each and every measles death after 2003, it is likely best to say that death certificates have been filed in 2005, 2009 (2), 2010 (2), and 2012 (2) that listed measles as a cause of death code.

Of course, that still means that there have been measles deaths in the United States since 2003, especially now that the CDC actually states that “the last measles death in the United States occurred in 2015.”

SSPE – More Measles Deaths

Lately, in addition to deaths from acute measles infections, there have been even more deaths from subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE).

About 6 to 8 years after having measles, children with SSPE develop progressive neurological symptoms, including memory loss, behavior changes, uncontrollable movements, and even seizures. As symptoms progress, they may become blind, develop stiff muscles, become unable to walk, and eventually deteriorate to a persistent vegetative state.

Children with SSPE usually die within 1 to 3 years of first developing symptoms, including in the United States:

  • 2000 – 5 SSPE deaths
  • 2001 – 2 SSPE deaths
  • 2002 – 5 SSPE deaths
  • 2003 – 0
  • 2004 – 1 SSPE death
  • 2005 – 2 SSPE deaths
  • 2006 – 3 SSPE deaths
  • 2007 – 3 SSPE deaths
  • 2008 – 3 SSPE deaths
  • 2009 – 2 SSPE deaths
  • 2010 – 0
  • 2011 – 4 SSPE deaths
  • 2012 – 1 SSPE death
  • 2013 – 1 SSPE death
  • 2014 – 0
  • 2015 – 1 SSPE death
  • 2016 – 0
  • 2017 – 0

That’s 33 SSPE deaths since 2000 and at least 20 SSPE deaths since 2005. Why so many? Many of them can likely be attributed to the large number of cases associated with measles outbreaks from 1989 to 1991.

Fortunately, as the number of measles cases has been dropping in the post-vaccine era, so have the number of SSPE deaths.

The National Registry for SSPE, reported that there were at least 453 cases between 1960 and 1976. There were 225 deaths from SSPE between 1979 and 1998. The registry wasn’t established until 1969 though, and it is now becoming clear that the risk of developing SSPE is much higher than once thought.

A recent study of measles in Germany has found that the risk of developing SSPE is about 1 in 1,700 to 1 in 3,300 cases of measles.

Other Myths About Measles Deaths

One of the classic measles myths we hear is that measles was disappearing even before the measles vaccine was developed. It is true that measles deaths had been dropping since the turn of the century.

The measles death rate (deaths per 100,000 people) in the United States was:

  • 1900 – 13.3 (about 7000 deaths)
  • 1910 – 12.4
  • 1920 – 8.8
  • 1930 – 3.2
  • 1935 – 3.1
  • 1940 – 0.5
  • 1945 – 0.2
  • 1950 – 0.3 (468 deaths)
  • 1955 – 0.2 (345 deaths)
  • 1960 – 0.2 (380 deaths)
  • 1963 – first measles vaccine licensed
  • 1965 – 0.1 (276 deaths)
  • 1970 – 0.0 (89 deaths)
  • 1975 – 0.0 (20 deaths)
  • 1980 – 0.0 (11 deaths)
  • 1985 – 0.0 (4 deaths)

That’s not surprising though. The general death rate had dropped from 17.8 in 1900 to 7.6 in 1960. For infants under age 12 months, the death rate dropped from 162.4 in 1933 to 27 in 1960.

This simply reflects that vaccines were not the only medical technology that helped to save lives in the 20th century and not that measles was already disappearing. Penicillin, insulin, vitamin D, blood typing (allows transfusions of blood that has been typed and cross-matched), dialysis machines, and mechanical ventilators were all discovered in the early 1900s.

anti-vax-measles-graph
Despite how anti-vaccine charts try and mislead you, measles was still very deadly when the first measles vaccines were introduced.

If you notice though, the death rate for measles got stuck after the 1940s at about 0.2 to 0.3, even as modern medicine continued to advance. That’s about 300 to 500 measles deaths each year in the United States. This was after World War II and through the 1950s and early 1960s, hardly a time of poor hygiene or poor nutrition or when Americans were without access to medical care.

It took about 20 years for those deaths to start dropping again, and it took the coming of the measles vaccine to do it.

So if we stop vaccinating, we won’t get to 7,000 measles deaths a year again in the United States. Modern medicine has improved a great deal since 1900. We would eventually get to about 320 to 960 measles deaths a year though (using our current population of 320 million people and a measles death rate between 0.1 and 0.3).

Other Facts About Measles Deaths

People still die of measles.

What else do you need to know about measles deaths?

  • SSPE is caused by wild type measles. Vaccine strain measles has never been found in the brain tissue of anyone who has ever died of SSPE.
  • Although SSPE was first described by Dr. James R. Dawson, JR as a new type of epidemic encephalitis in 1933 (Dawson’s disease), that it is a late complication of a natural measles infection wasn’t discovered until much later.
  • People have recently died of measles in other industrial countries too. Basically anywhere there have been measles outbreaks, there have been measles deaths, including Canada, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and France, etc.
  • Worldwide, about 400 people die each and every day from measles.

The latest measles deaths we have been hearing about?

Dozens of infants, children, and adults, almost all unvaccinated have died in large outbreaks since the beginning of 2016 in Europe.

What To Know about Measles Deaths

Measles is still deadly, even in this era of modern medicine, sanitation and good nutrition.

More on Measles Deaths